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Ukraine

Rumors fuel fear in Donetsk

The citizens of Donetsk are frightened by heavy fighting on the outskirts of the city, and unsettled by rumors of air attacks and evacuation. Conflicting media reports add to the confusion.

Ukrainian army fighter jets thunder across the sky high above the city of Donetsk since the start of so-called 'anti-terror' operations against pro-Russian separatists. From time to time, sirens can be heard wailing in different parts of town. Occasional explosions also frighten the residents in this eastern Ukrainian city.

Heavy fighting was reported at the nearby airport, which was in the hands of the separatists. According to official information, government troops are now in control of the airport.

But the airport has seen no flights for the past several days, airport spokesman Dmitri Kosinow told DW.

Unsettling broadcasts

The people of Donetsk fear the situation could escalate even further.

They base their information on Russian television reports, where blame for the violence is placed squarely on the government in Kyiv. Russian media warned civilians that they were in danger because Ukraine's army planned to also advance on pro-Russian separatists in the center of the city after the airport battle.

Attack on airport, billowing smoke

Separatists and government forces clashed at Donetsk airport

The government in Kyiv denies the allegations. Mayor Alexander Lukyanchenko assured the population that there would be no air attacks on Donetsk, stressing that media reports about an evacuation of the city are false.

A feeling of uncertainty remains, however. A woman who asked to be identified only by her first name, Natalia, told DW that she heard an evacuation was imminent, so she packed her bags. Her employer let her go home early, she added.

Rumors are gaining urgency. Another Donetsk resident said: "My husband called me, and told me to hurry and run into the basement, because the city is about to be bombed." Oligarchs and frauds are holed up in their mansions abroad, while regular Donetsk citizens have to run for the basement, she angrily added.

Poised to flee

Most citizens are staying home in fear over violence. Yet, life goes on in Donetsk.

Municipal offices are open, and the city transportation is running. But many shopping centers are closed, as is the central market. Some people have begun to hoard food. "There are lines in the shops, I'm no exception," Viktoria said, pleased that she was allowed to leaver her workplace early.

 Donetsk: central market, no people

Shops in the central market are closed, roads deserted

Some universities, schools and kindergartens are closed, too. "All of our staff came to work, but half the children stayed at home," a kindergarten teacher told DW. The building is near a roadblock. "We hear shooting all the time," she said, then added that some parents are trying to get their children out of the city. "We took our grandson to Dnipropetrovsk on the train," another woman says. "Shots were even fired at the train station."

People are turning to travel bureaus for travel visas. "A man just asked me about a one-year visa for Bulgaria - he plans to send his family there because of what is going on in Donetsk," the head of a travel agency told DW. The manager had to decline, explaining that he has no such authority.

Fear of separatist terrorism

When asked, many people of Donetsk don't want to see Ukraine be divided. In fact, many fear the separatists will increasingly and forcibly take control of the city. At the same time, many Donetsk citizens repeat what they've heard in the Russian media.

"This is a civil war, and the rulers in Kyiv want to destroy Donetsk and the entire infrastructure built for the 2012 European Football Championship," one man said, adding that they've already started on the airport and the train station.

Other citizens show sympathy for the government's operations, saying the country must take action against Russian aggression, or the separatists' terrorism will never end. Air attacks on the city are nothing but rumors, some say, and add that the criminals roaming Donetsk are the real threat.

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